Illuminating History (Hardcover)

A Retrospective of Seven Decades

By Bernard Bailyn

W. W. Norton & Company, 9781324005834, 288pp.

Publication Date: April 14, 2020

List Price: 28.95*
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The brilliance of a master historian shines through this personal account of a lifetime’s work.

Over a remarkable career Bernard Bailyn has reshaped our understanding of the early American past. Inscribing his superb scholarship with passion and imagination honed by a commitment to rigor, Bailyn captures the particularity of the past and its broad significance in precise, elegant prose. His transformative work has ranged from a new reckoning with the ideology that powered the opposition to British authority in the American Revolution, to a sweeping account of the peopling of America, and the critical nurturing of a new field, the history of the Atlantic world.

Illuminating History is the most personal of Bailyn’s works. It is in part an intellectual memoir of the significant turns in an immensely productive and influential scholarly career. It is also alive with people whose actions touched the long arc of history. Among the dramatic human stories that command our attention: a struggling Boston merchant tormented by the tensions between capitalist avarice and a constrictive Puritan piety; an ordinary shopkeeper who in a unique way feverishly condemned British authority as corrupt and unworthy of public confidence; a charismatic German Pietist who founded a cloister in the Pennsylvania wilderness famous for its strange theosophy, its spartan lifestyle, and its rich musical and artistic achievement. And the good townspeople of Petersham, whose response in 1780 to a draft Massachusetts constitution speaks directly to us through a moving insistence on individual freedoms in the face of an imposing central authority. Here is vivid history and an illuminating self-portrait from one of the most eminent historians of our time.

About the Author

Bernard Bailyn is Adams University Professor and James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History, emeritus, at Harvard University, where he received a PhD in 1953 and then taught for more than fifty years. His many distinguished works have been awarded two Pulitzer Prizes, the National Book Award, the Bancroft Prize, and the National Humanities Medal. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, he received an AB from Williams College in 1945 after serving in the Army Signal Corps and the Army Security Agency during World War II. He lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Praise For Illuminating History: A Retrospective of Seven Decades

In this unusual memoir, Bernard Bailyn reflects on the way his life and historical work have been entwined. The result is creative, compelling, and captivating.
— Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University

Marvelous glimpses into the mind of one of America’s greatest historians.
— Gordon S. Wood, Brown University

Illuminating History casts fresh light on a brilliant career. Bernard Bailyn emerges from its pages as a great historian at the peak of his powers.

— Peter Onuf, University of Virginia

In this revealing and deeply personal volume, Bailyn gives a moving and characteristically literate account of historical sensibility in the second half of the twentieth century.
— Stanley N. Katz, Princeton University

Bernard Bailyn reveals the sources of his own creativity as the greatest historian of colonial and revolutionary America.
— Jack Rakove, Stanford University

Bernard Bailyn’s stature rests on imaginative analysis, brilliant insights, and superb, finely honed craftsmanship. All these, and his gift for understanding people,…shine in Illuminating History.

— Richard D. Brown, University of Connecticut

Bernard Bailyn balances rigor and imagination in studying the past. Now a reflective memoir allows new generations to converse with a master humanist.
— Peter H. Wood, Duke University